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A Sali-Grant shift?

The new Greg Smith & Associates poll, just out this afternoon, has one startling result in it, one certain to start some debate rolling among Idaho political watchers.

It is so startling because little else in it is.

The last Smith poll, using the same methodology, emerged in early July. In the 1st District U.S. House race, the premier contest at the monent, that poll gave Republican Bill Sali a lead of 41% to 25% over Democrat Larry Grant, with the remainder (34%) undecided. The new poll, conducted shortly before Labor Day, gives Grant a lead – 22% to 14%. And 61% undecided.

That’s a double-headed stunner. If the numbers are right, then the number of undecideds in the race has nearly doubled, with almost all of that increase coming out of Sali’s hide. It doesn’t reflect acceleration on Grant’s part; his numbers are almost identical, even down by a hair. Nevertheless, if a mass of former Sali backers have started easing away, that ought to be a cause for deep concern on the part of that campaign. (Could it be related to the recent defensiveness we’ve noted earlier?)

Are the numbers right? Well, you’re never wise to put too much weight on any one single poll result. But consider this: All the other races polled both months – governor and lieutenant governor – show results almost unchanged from six weeks ago. And in two other races just polled, 2nd District U.S. House and superintendent of public instruction, the results show strong Republican leads, as you’d expect. Smith suggested that “The change is clearly a result of changing voter sentiment, not a change in polling methodology.”

We’d like to see whether this result is backed up a second time, or whether the next Smith poll swings back somewhat in the 1st CD. But the moment, with caveats noted, the poll suggests the 1st is a district to watch – one with a substantial number of voters not nailed down.

In the other results, there’s less of note.

Office Republican % Democrat %
Govenor Butch Otter 42% Jerry Brady 18%
Lt Gov Jim Risch 46% Larry La Rocco 23%
1st US House Bill Sali 14% Larry Grant 22%
2nd US House Mike Simpson 61% Jim Hansen 19%
Supt Publ Instr Tom Luna 40% Jana Jones 29%

No great surprises elsewhere, other than that the number of undecideds is holding fairly strong elsewhere, too. This may be an unsettled, and unsettling election cycle yet.

UPDATE: The Sali campaign apparently doesn’t handle bad news very well. It shot out a release contending, “The methodology used was so bad that Channel Seven, who commissioned the poll in the first place, has decided not to go with its obviously faulty results. We do not intend to release the results of our own internal polling at this time, for reasons of our own; but suffice it to say that our polling, using credible methodology and done by one of the most experienced and respected polling firms in the nation, bears no resemblance to Greg Smith’s conclusions.”

First, the Sali campaign had no issue with Smith’s numbers in July, which resulted from the same methodology (and showed Sali in a more favorable light). Second, the easiest refutation of Smith’s results would be release of the campaign’s internal polls, which the campaign says it has conducted, but which it is not releasing. Campaigns often release at least the base numbers – if, that is, releasing them puts the campaign in a favorable light. Campaigns that sit on poll numbers typically do so because they don’t look so hot – an argument in favor of Smith’s numbers.

The emotional response suggests that Smith’s results may have touched a nerve.

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